PULLMAN — The college basketball season is nearing the midway point, and several questions remain unanswered about Washington State’s skill level, depth and ability to succeed in the Pac-12 Conference.
In matters of the heart, however, no one seemed to be questioning the Cougars after they rallied from 9-0 and 21-4 deficits to surge past Washington down the stretch before bowing, 68-63. Saturday night’s game was the Pac-12 opener for both teams.
“They scrapped and battled. … They didn’t quit, that was for sure,” WSU coach Ken Bone said.
“We’re resilient, and we knew it would be a close game at the end,” Cougars star Brock Motum said. “We can compete with anybody on our home court.”
The Cougars might have stretched their winning streak to five games if not for the horrific start. The Cougars missed all seven of their shots in the first five minutes.
“We just didn’t look very in sync,” Bone said.
“Just uncharacteristically missed shots,” Motum said.
The Cougars’ rally was fueled in part by reserve guard Will DiIorio, a former walk-on from Bainbridge High School.
Five weeks after the junior sank the first 3-pointer of his college career — on just his second attempt — DiIorio drained 3 of 4 treys against Washington. He scored a career-best nine points and tied his career high of 25 minutes played.
“That was great to see, because Will has developed over the last couple years to become a decent shooter,” Bone said.
“The way he was being guarded, he had the open shot, so it was good to see him have the confidence to go ahead and shoot it.
“He’s a very unselfish kid. He understands he’s not one of the better 3-point shooters on the team, so he doesn’t look for it very often.”
DaVonte Lacy, who was leading WSU’s busiest 3-point shooters at 41.3 percent, missed all six of his trey attempts Saturday. His sixth attempt, which would have tied the game at 66, came with approximately 10 seconds left. The former Curtis High standout shot from about 23 feet over Bellarmine Prep graduate Abdul Gaddy.
“That was the play: DaVonte, if he had an open shot, he was going to shoot it,” Motum said.
“He had a decent look, and he’s very good at shooting that,” Bone said. “I like the fact that he was confident enough to step up and shoot it.”
Motum, WSU’s leading scorer at 19.4 points per game, overcame a rough start to score 15 points. Motum said he had no problem with Lacy taking the potential game-tying shot.
“He had an open shot, and he shot it,” Motum said. “I have all the faith in the world.”
Motum said he was uncertain if nerves played a part in his team’s ugly start. The Huskies turned in an uneven performance, but their athleticism, skill and size are significantly better than that of most of Washington State’s non-conference opponents.
ESPN’s InsideRPI.com rated Washington State’s schedule 289th out of 347 NCAA Division I teams coming into Saturday’s games. The Huskies, who have the same 9-5 record as WSU, had the 24th-rated schedule and were ranked 85th — 99 spots ahead of WSU.